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Low birth weight and weight in infancy are associated with adult insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. A proposed mechanism is programming of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis by intrauterine undernutrition, leading to persistently elevated cortisol concentrations. We examined 24-h serum cortisol profiles (samples every 20 min) in 83 healthy elderly men and women whose birth weight and infant weight were recorded. Variables derived from these profiles included trough, peak, and area under the curve concentrations; the time of onset, rate of rise, duration, and peak of the early morning cortisol rise; postprandial secretion; and regularity of secretion (approximate entropy). None of these parameters was related to birth weight, weight at 1 yr, or change in weight SD score between birth and 1 yr. Consistent with other studies, 0730-0900 h cortisol concentrations were higher in men and women of lower birth weight, although this was not statistically significant (P = 0.08). Our findings do not support the hypothesis that reduced intrauterine and infant growth are associated with continuously raised cortisol concentrations in old age. Programmed effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis may influence reactivity rather than resting secretion.

Original publication




Journal article


The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism

Publication Date





2001 - 2007


Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, United Kingdom SO16 6YD.


Humans, Birth Weight, Hydrocortisone, Cohort Studies, Circadian Rhythm, Aging, Sex Characteristics, Osmolar Concentration, Forecasting, Aged, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Female, Male, United Kingdom